One of the Nets front office staff sees himself as a "basketball purist." It's all about the game, not everything that surrounds it: the hype, the business, etc. That's what he told us before the Jay-Z concert. Then, as Jay-Z was wrapping up, his Nets cap and Nets jersey matching the thousands in the audience wearing Nets black-and-white, the self-described "purist" messaged us, "I'm starting to understand how big this is."
Opening Night with Jay-Z won't be the same as Opening Night with D-Will a month from now. Executives who work for both the team and the arena tell us that the requests for November 1 far outnumber those for September 28. There is no secondary market. Still, It's hard to imagine there's another level of excitement yet to be found in our house. It was a great moment.
The night started with the receptions at the Calvin Klein Lounge, the 40-40 Club, presumably Mikhail Prokhorov's supersuite and elsewhere. We were hovering (HOVA-ing?) between Klein and 40-40, spending most of our time at the "Klein" which is spacious with clean lines and a floor-to-ceiling glass wall at one end where the players will run by as they enter and leave the court.
We knew we would be in for a treat when we found ourselves on the security line with Star Jones and John Calipari. (NO, they were NOT together!! The universe could not handle that.) Inside was a mix of everyone from players and coaches to a Nets' team physician to Bruce Ratner (and his journalist sister who outside the VIP entrance had made sure things moved quickly). In addition to Calipari, another former Nets coach, Lawrence Frank, was on hand. Irina Pavlova and Sergei Kushchenko of the Nets board of directors mingled. (On the way in, board chairman and Onexim deputy CEO quietly and anonymously oversaw the scene.) Prokhorov dropped by. Ratner and Brett Yormark toasted the evening.
Brett Yormark, celebrating his 45th birthday with twin Michael, never stopped moving and seemed to have his most relaxed (?) moments with Calipari, an old friend. The identically dressed Yormark twins moving at such a high rate of speed in the crowd made us a bit dizzy and seemed to suggest a tear in the cosmic fabric. (Earlier, VIP's including at least one owner were held back at the Emblem Health entrance because there weren't enough security scanners. The Nets' Yormark could seen demanding answers of a supervisor. He was not amused. That's why he's paid the big bucks.)
The players straggled in, first Josh Childress, then camp invites James Mays, Carleton Scott and Stephen Dennis. Andray Blatche joined them. Jerry Stackhouse, in keeping with his veteran status, had a crowd around him, including Tyshawn Taylor (who is bigger than you think he is). Toko Shengelia, accompanied by his Georgian friend and teammate Zaza Pachulia, was in the back of the room, as was C.J. Watson. Toko along with Stackhouse were best dressed but for the most part, it was jeans. It may be that Stackhouse just looked the best dressed. He wears it well...all of it.
We saw no starters, nor MarShon Brooks. Many but not all were at the 40-40 Club. Deron Williams, accompanied by "my love," was in his family suite, purchased after he signed his deal. Talk about your givebacks! Avery Johnson with family in tow moved around, offering "great to be here, Hello Brooklyn" to all within range. He gave Childress, the first player to arrive, a hug and a big (is their any other kind?) Avery smile. Milton Lee was with his college pal Charlier and musician John Forte.
Once inside, there were other celebrities, large and small, to ogle. Prokhorov in his suite, MSNBC host Toure' in our row (You get your celebrities where you find them.) The concert started late (duh) but it was as anticipated, as advertised, historic. It opened with black-and-white historic photos flashed on the concert stage screen with the intensity and frequency picking up as it moved through the years, ending with 2012 and the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets. Then, in opening slightly above and to the left of the stage, a silhouetted figure suddenly and dramatically appeared, then was illuminated in the black-and-white colors of the team finally were revealed. And we were off (helped by a familiar scent in the air.)
There was a Nets moment on stage, Jay-Z's first, when he talked about how it all came together and what it all means to him. "It was long, long journey to get here. We started here in 2003," he told the crowd, then gave a shoutout to Bruce Ratner. "What's Up Bruce? Bruce came to me at the 40-40. He had this idea and this vision of bringing this team to Brooklyn. I said, 'I mean, what's up.' I'm telling y'all tonight. I've been on many stages, but all around the world. Nothing feels like tonight."
On a (somewhat) serious note, it was our first Jay-Z concert so we're not going to get into a debate on where it ranks musically. There are music critics who are far more equipped to do that. We only know where it ranks, emotionally, as a Nets fan. There was on the floor, in the arena, a sense of arrival that no doubt will be topped by November 1. Nets executives quietly admit Brooklyn, as a venue, as a place, as a home, as a sensibility, has become much grander than they thought it would be. Players and others in East Rutherford are getting "just how big this is." (It may take Knicks fans a few years to figure it out, but they are slow.)
So, Where Brooklyn At? Here, baby. Right here and now.